New project – Connected Health Store

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Very excited to unveil today a new project I have been working on with the Shiny Media team – Connected Health Store.

Back in the day Shiny used to start a new blog every other week (sighs wistfully) but this is actually the first new website from Shiny in about four years – which only goes to underline what an important sector in the tech world we think it will become.

Anyhow the blurb about the website is here http://connectedhealthstore.com/sample-page

The release is below

New website that focuses on health gadgets and apps, Connected Health Store, launches

Innovative collaboration between website network Shiny Media and product development agency CONNECTION7

The booming sector of health gadgets and apps gets its very own website today with the arrival of Connected Health Store.

A collaboration between website network Shiny Media and sales, marketing and product development company CONNECTION7 Connected Health Store will keep its US and UK readers up to date with the latest news from the medical and fitness gadgets world highlighting products that monitor a person’s bodily signs, enable them to track their wellness and a great deal more.

In a few months time Connected Health Store will also add a retail section enabling readers to view and buy a number of unique health-based products and apps.

‘For me the Connected Health space is one of the most vibrant and exciting areas of technology,’ explains Ashley Norris, a director of Shiny Media. ‘There is going to be an explosion of health gadgets and apps in 2012, starting at the CES exhibition in January, which will make a significant difference to the way that we monitor our health.’

‘At CHS we will also keep tabs on the growing wellness app market, which will begin to mature as phones and tablets get ever more sophisticated and intelligent.’

‘The real opportunity here is to cut through an increasing wealth of information and bring it altogether under one roof. News, product reviews, tips and advice with a store to follow, make the Connected Health Store a cracking destination for those interested in tech and health.’ Said, Andrew Durkin co-founder of CONNECTION7.

The editorial for Connected Health Store is written by the team that produces Shiny’s two high profile consumer electronics websites Tech Digest and Shiny Shiny. Shiny’s MD Chris Price says ‘It has been quite a while since we launched a new website which just goes to underline how exciting and how much potential we think there is in Connected Health.’

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Has Gawker signalled the death knell for blogging?

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There’s a bit of a media kerfuffle this morning about whether Gawker Media has killed blogging. The story, which you can read here, http://www.thewrap.com/media/column-post/gawker-media-redesign-20233 focuses on the way that the network’s new designs for their websites look much more like old school destination sites than they do traditional blogs.

It kind of begs the question what actually is a blog anyway? Much of blogging’s distinctive design features went a long time ago when classy WordPress themes like Revolution Theme became popular.

Personally I think the distinction between blog and website is not around design. Rather it is around money. Media companies, both new-ish ones like Gawker and old-ish ones like AOL are producing websites that have a heritage that stems from the great blog explosion of 2003/4, but have long since left notions of traditional blogging behind. By that I mean they are written by multiple users, are commercially driven and increasingly focus on producing long tail content.

At Shiny we stopped using the words blog to describe what the websites we are producing over a year ago. Our current designs still have a blog like element, but they too have many features that are culled from more established websites.

So what has prompted the Gawker (and indeed Shiny) move?

1 More page impressions (and therefore more ad money) – traditional blogs gave too much content away and had a low yield of page impressions per user. Interestingly Nick Denton says its metric for success is about users rather than page views, but with a wobbly economy publishers are still very much focussed on page views for now.

2 Changing ideas about design – Websites are increasingly using big, powerful images on their sites, the old blog format didn’t cater for these very well.

3 The need to showcase big stories – To underline to new readers that the website has has lots of great posts – again the old blogging templates didn’t do this especially well

4 The need to highlight evergreen/commercial content – Websites need somewhere that longer stories can be housed. Also brands are looking more closely at integration within websites. The option of having branded content that looks attractive and is in a prominent position within a website is something that appeals to both brands and publishers.

Finally the class of 2003-2005 (Gawker, Weblogs, Mashable, TechCrunch etc) are becoming the new mainstream media. Unlike others within the publishing industry they have developed business plans that actually work, while older media brands wither and die, they will continue to go from strength to strength.

Bye bye blog networks

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When Shiny Media was its height in 2007 we prided ourselves as being the UK, nay Europe’s, largest blog network. Egged on by our VCs we launched a whole raft of new blogs and quite probably bit off a bit more than we could chew. The blogs themselves were in excellent niches. We had a social media blog, a Twitter blog and a personal finance blog all of which might have gone on to great things. The trouble was from a commercial/advertising perspective it was becoming increasingly difficult to handle the 40 or so titles we already had. Still 40 blogs was nothing. Weblogs Inc, which in many ways provided the original template for Shiny, had nearly 80, while B5 Media boasted over 300.

As time has gone by almost all of what we used to call blog networks have evolved and become something different. Aol, which bought Weblogs, rationalised the blog count choosing to focus on hero sites like Engadget. Even Gawker Media ditched several sites to focus on its core areas of gossip, games and gadgets.

However, perhaps the most telling sign that the blog network has become a Web 2.0 dodo is the story of B5 Media http://www.b5media.com/. Early this year it began to roll up all those blogs into portals. And now it has just four sites. The traffic from the original blogs has been directed to the portals. In effect it has created four large sites with huge readerships that are much more focused than its disparate blogs and designed to appeal directly to advertisers. The restructuring of B5 hasn’t been without controversy and at least one of its original founders now thinks that the company is doomed http://www.duncanriley.com/2010/02/17/the-end-of-b5media/. However the development of the mega portals was probably inevitable.

In early 2007 there was a serious discussion about wrapping all Shiny’s fashion blogs into one portal. There are many technological, political, financial and editorial reasons why this did not happen, but had we succeeded we would have boasted the second biggest fashion site in the UK at the time, a very real rival to Handbag.com

It is becoming increasingly clear that the way forward for indie new media companies is to shoot for general big traffic sites. This inevitably gives the publisher bigger sites with more readers and greater visibility to advertisers. Online content that is too niche simply doesn’t attract enough traffic to make it sustainable for small publishing companies. Ironically it can work pretty well for individuals especially in the B2B arena – like Mobile Marketing Magazine http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.co.uk/ – or if consumer facing titles can add a retail or strong affiliate elements to their sites like retrotogo.com http://www.retrotogo.com/ . There are of course hundreds of individual blogs doing very nicely thank you monetised by groups like Glam.

Both content business I am involved with are now working on larger portals. Anorak Publishing is building Anorak anorak.co.uk into a men’s lifestyle portal and Shiny Media has five sites that it is developing into portals. The issue though is how do you create portals that still cover the niche content areas that you have spent the last few years developing. It is less of an issue for Shiny now as many of its original fashion titles have new owners, but is something that must have been at the forefront of minds of the B5 Media team.

So was the blog network ultimately a failure? I don’t think Jason Calacanis’ bank manager thinks so (or Nick Denton’s for that matter). For me it was the publishing equivalent of what Google were trying a few years back – create lots of new entities and see which ones work. Almost every blog network might be gone, but there are a lot of websites that came out of those networks that are thriving.